I call the messy stage of a novel The Swamp, and most often it’s in the middle.
I really related to “The Slough of Despond” post by Barbara O’Neal on Writer Unboxed (an excellent blog for writers).
I’m up to my neck in a first draft that has a million dead ends and weird transitions and scenes that will never make the final cut. The language in places is so much worse than pedestrian that I would die of embarrassment if anyone, even my very best friend, read it.
Her husband calls the messy manuscript stage “the teenager.” I know of another writer, who, when she hit the Slough of Despond, her husband said, “You’re on Chapter 5 already?”
I’m happy-go-lucky now, fixing things in the manuscript here and there, wandering off into endless research, waiting for the next heavy brick to land from The Task Master (editor Dan). Then, no doubt, I will be in the Slough of Despond yet again — or, dare I think, is that swampy bit behind me? (Dream on.)
Are you in a swamp, right now, the Slough of Despond? How do you deal with it? What’s your name for it?
I’m posting this on behalf of Jordan Gentile, who for some reason is not able to post comments to this blog. He wrote to me directly, and so eloquently that I’m going to post his note on the blog proper.
I was just watching a C-SPAN “Booknotes” segment on YouTube (are Canadians familiar with C-SPAN?) in which all of the panelists were nonfiction writers of various sorts — journalists, historians, memoirists, etc. In spite of their not being novelists, they ALL agreed, to a person, that research is the most enjoyable aspect of their work, and that writing is the hardest.
I used to have a regular newspaper job myself, and, despite being known as a good wordsmith, I completely agree with both you, Sandra, and the C-SPAN panelists: It was always a cinch to pick up the phone and talk to sources, gather quotes, take notes, research stuff online, etc., but a pain in the butt to finally stare at a blank computer screen and start producing sentences.
Sometimes I think the extra thoroughness I put into my interviews was just procrastination, so that the writing part of my job could be forstalled for another half-hour or so!
Another problem, of course, is that writing often produces more questions about your subject than you had during the “official” research phase of the project. The great American historian David McCullough (“Truman,” “John Adams”) addresses this problem rather ingeniously by actually starting to write his books very shortly into the research process, in spite of his relative ignorance at that stage, knowing that all of his best and most insightful questions, not to mention the ones most germane to his narrative, will come to him only after he begins creating said narrative.
Anyway, the point is, the majority of writers can relate to what you’re
Jordan, thank you so much.
I agree completely with David McCollough, whose work I so greatly admire. I never do travel research until after I have a draft in hand: how else would I know what I need to know?
I also agree that research can be procrastination! But it’s such fertile ground: it often proves to be exactly what’s needed.
Ha! So funny and a relief to know that other writers go through this. I love when she says “I would die of embarassment if anyone, even my best friend, read it.”
I can completely relate and I feel a little…hesitant?…when friends and family members ask what the book is about when I’m still in the first draft. I want to shape it more before I talk about it, but if I say that then I look like a moody prima donna. I think that is the most icky part of the first draft for me, sharing my book with people who love me before I’m ready.
Amanda, so true! I think it’s important not to show your work to anyone until you are ready, but quite a few writers don’t care to talk about their work either. Being vague sometimes helps. “It’s hard to explain …. ” etc. The truth is you won’t really know what your book is about for several drafts. I’m still trying to figure mine out!
I so hear you!
I’ve always liked the middle referred to as “the muddle.” I’m not a fan of the muddle, I must say.
“Muddle”: perfect. Margaret Atwood claims to love “mud-wrestling” with a novel.
First drafts are tough. I don’t have a name for it, but I don’t think of it as the middle until I’m into the 2nd draft or 3rd. I like middles. That’s when there is enough momentum behind me, and I can work away on my own without the anxiety that comes with sending it off. I’m in a first draft right now. OMG! LOL.
I find the first draft easier than the third. The first is enchanting just because it exists! By the third, it has to start flying on its own wings.